Society shows an appetite for change


A dozen new large-scale nature conservation sites are announced this week, and The Wildlife Trusts say this should be the start of something much bigger. The Wildlife Trusts believe that for this Nature Improvement Area concept to be successful, the National Planning Policy Framework must provide explicit guidance to planning authorities on taking a more strategic and integrated approach to the natural environment. The twelve new Nature Improvement Areas have been chosen in a competition that received more than 70 applications. All were based on the recommendations of local people and with the aim of creating a step change in the recovery of the natural environment to benefit people, the local economy and wildlife.

Nature Improvement Areas have a role in helping to improve the health of the natural environment, to support food production and address habitat fragmentation, water quality, flood risk management and species loss. The Wildlife Trusts, involved in 11 of the 12 areas, now urges the government to harness the positive momentum created through the competition process and extend the concept across England.

Bleaklow, Dark Peak, Derbyshire (Dave Dunford).

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Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said "We are delighted this competition has demonstrated a real appetite for putting nature back after decades of decline through the large number of applications, but twelve Nature Improvement Areas are not enough. This concept should be driven forward everywhere across England and given formal recognition through the new planning process, expected next month, and agri-environment grants. We have an urgent need for the restoration and recovery of the natural environment to take place across a much larger area and quickly. Our founder Charles Rothschild would have welcomed this move. He worked hard to secure Government protection for wildlife sites as far back as the First World War. He had to wait 37 years for nature conservation to make it onto the statute with the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act in 1949."

As an organisation, The Wildlife Trusts has long known that a partnership-led, landscape-scale approach to conservation is the only way to secure nature's recovery. It is being practised and championed through more than 100 Living Landscape schemes around the UK. As a result, The Wildlife Trusts will continue to work with farmers, landowners, local authorities and other partners to develop these ideas and look to Government to reaffirm its commitment to driving forward this policy.

The twelve Nature Improvement Areas will be:

  • Birmingham and the Black Country Living Landscape: includes urban, wetland, river and heath habitats. It will create heathland on brownfield sites and 40 hectares of new native woodland.
  • Dark Peak: includes moorland and woodland in the Peak District National Park. It will restore habitats such as upland heathland and create 210 hectares of native woodland.
  • Dearne Valley Green Heart: is mostly on farmland and former mining settlements with woodland and wetland. It will restore the River Don floodplain and create new wetlands and woodlands.
  • Greater Thames Marshes: includes agricultural marsh and urban habitats. It will create and enhance grazing marsh, salt marsh and mudflat habitats.
  • Humberhead Levels: straddling Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, it is mainly wetland, lowland and peat habitats. It will create or restore at least 1,427 hectares of wetland habitat.
  • Marlborough Downs: this is predominantly a farmer-led partnership looking to restore chalk and grassland habitats and increase the numbers of farmland birds as well as creating a network of traditional clay-lined dewponds to act as wildlife havens.
  • Meres and Mosses of the Marches: incorporates wetlands, peat bogs and ponds in Cheshire. It will aim to reduce diffuse pollution by working with farmers, improve peatlands and restore wildlife areas around the River Perry.
  • Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands: the most northerly NIA, this consists of limestone, wetland and grassland habitats. It will restore coast and freshwater wetlands and create 200 hectares of woodland, planting 10,000 native trees and develop habitat for six species.
  • Nene Valley: within the River Nene regional park, this project will work with farmers to restore habitats and restore tributaries and reaches of the River Nene.
  • Northern Devon: this incorporates river, woodland and grassland. The project will recreate and restore 1,000 hectares of priority habitat and restore the River Torridge so that it can support the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.
  • South Downs Way Ahead: encompasses key chalk sites of the South Downs National Park. The NIA will restore 1,000 hectares of chalk grassland and encourage the return of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and several species of farmland birds.
  • Wild Purbeck: is a variety of river, wetland, heath and woodland habitat as well as the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe. This NIA will introduce livestock to manage heathland , restore wetland and create or restore 15 ponds as well as creating 120 hectares of new woodland and a new seven hectare saline lagoon.

Written by: The Wildlife Trusts